The Ogre Wars

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CHAPTER 2 A FAMILIAR PATH

It felt good, almost natural, to be wearing his armour and weapons again. The hair on the back of Dougal’s neck bristled with excitement as he fastened the sword belt around his waist. His silver armour, with the crest of CaerGorias, the rampant lion, shone as brightly as it had two years ago when the fairies first presented it to him. He knew he missed being an adventuring giant, but it wasn’t until he donned his armour that he realised how much.

Derry, for her part, relished the prospect of being able to use her magic openly, without fear of being seen. As she pulled on her green travel cloak and attached her sword, she couldn’t help but smile.

When the twins walked out to join the others, they were met by stares of admiration.

Cait beamed with pride as she looked at Dougal, while Turloch and Fearghus just gazed, their mouths wide open. The twins looked like knights from one of the ‘big people’s storybooks,’ strong and fearless, ready to face any challenge. Even Fearghus, who was initially hesitant about the journey, was now inspired.

Phil flew invisibly ahead of the leprechauns, who carried the fairies; this would make the journey quicker as they made their way to the portal.

Derry had Niamh on her shoulder, and the two wizards spoke non-stop about magical theories. As they travelledthrough the heavily treed forest, Dougal explained how he, Derry and Phil had travelled this very road two years before. With the help of Adam and Dylan, he told his friends about his previous adventure to the world of the fairies. It felt good to tell them the truth; neither of the twins had enjoyed deceiving their friends.

Four days later, the small party arrived at the portal to Connacht.

‘It’s a tree,’ Fearghus said, disappointed at what he saw.

’No, Fearghus, it’s the door to a new world.’ Dougal laughed at his sceptical friend.

‘Well, I don’t see a door. This is a waste of time.’ As Fearghus spoke, much to his amazement, the tree began to glow a bright, warm yellow colour.

‘Are you coming or not?’ Turloch asked. Without waiting for a reply, he followed the fairies and dragon into the tree and vanished.

Fearghus stood there, gaping in disbelief. ‘I’m not walking into a tree,’ he whimpered to Dougal.

Dougal looked at him, took hold of his arm, and dragged the screaming leprechaun into the portal.

’What took you so long?’ asked Niamh as Dougal and Fearghus emerged from the side of the small hill, into Connacht.

Dougal gave the wizard a sideways glance and rolled his eyes skyward, not needing to explain the difficulties he had had trying to coax Fearghus through. He then smiled as he saw both suns glowing in the clear sky above and felt the familiar warmth on his back.

‘It almost feels like we’ve come home.’

’It does, little brother, it does,’ smiled Derry, patting him on the shoulder.

The three newcomers looked around in awe, struggling to take in their new surroundings. Although Dougal and Derry had described their destination in detail, none of them were quite prepared for what they saw.

The trees were not much more than twice the leprechauns’ height, and the few buildings they could see in the distance appeared to be of the same scale. It was as if they had been transported into a miniature world, a world of make believe.

‘It looks just like a tiny version of home,’ Cait said.

Dougal smiled a wide, warm smile. ‘You haven’t seen anything yet.’

As they got closer to the fairy capital, the landscape changed. Farmhouses and small villages began to appear. They were made of red brick – not like the white houses in CaerGorias – and there were few gardens; instead, cobbled courtyard areas were in front of each house. They were very small and looked like playhouses, reinforcing the leprechauns’ first impression that Connacht was like being in a world of miniatures. However, what surprised the first-time visitors the most was the reception Dougal and Derry received from nearly every fairy they passed.

It was obvious the twins were idolised by the people of Connacht. They were offered all kinds of gifts as they passed through that, much to Fearghus’s disgust, they politely refused.

Dougal explained to Fearghus that the greatest gift of all was being back in the fairy kingdom. He thought often of the two previous times he had travelled this road. The first time it had been a road leading to the unknown, just as it was now to Cait, Turloch and Fearghus. The second time had been the return home, and although that had been two years ago, it seemed like yesterday.

As they travelled, Derry and Phil spent their time successfully teaching Cait and Turloch, and to a lesser degree Fearghus, the innate, but forgotten, leprechaun art of invisibility. Turloch and Cait mastered it almost as quickly as Derry had, Fearghus, however, just didn’t seem to understand. No matter how it was explained to him, or even demonstrated, it fell on deaf ears. After two days Phil gave up in disgust, but Derry persevered, and as they neared the fairy capital, Fearghus at least understood the theory.

As they approached Sarasidhe, four riders rode forward to greet them.

‘You are honoured, aren’t you?’ said Adam, a smile on his face. ‘I’ve never been greeted by a king and two brownie ambassadors before I’ve even entered the city.’

‘King?’ gasped Turloch. He had been so transfixed by the huge castle before him that he hadn’t noticed the riders.

As they entered the main courtyard of the palace, Dougal nearly fell over himself. He found himself looking at life-sized marble statues of himself and his sister.

‘That’s … that’s … that’s you! You’re... you’re a statue, Dougal,’ Fearghus stammered, completely shocked as he looked at his long-time friend immortalised in stone.

Cait walked over to Dougal and squeezed his arm proudly. She thought her heart was going to burst with pride.

Derry tried to subtly wipe a tear from her eye, hoping no one was watching. She too was amazed by what she saw and felt absolute pride.

King Strahan smiled happily at his friends as he greeted them. ‘It is good to see you again; I see you are pleased with your statues. They were erected in honour of the heroes of the pixie–fairy war,’ the king explained. ’Without you, the outcome would have been very different. Niamh, would you take our guests to their chambers so they can rest and prepare for tonight’s banquet in honour of Dougal and Derry. Tomorrow there will be plenty of time to discuss our current problems.’

Niamh, knowing the castle well, led the leprechauns to their chambers.

‘This castle was built to accommodate both fairies and fairy dragons,’ she explained to the three leprechauns visiting for the first time. ’That’s why the hallways and rooms are so large. You should be able to walk around with ease.’

The twins smiled at the look of absolute awe on their friends’ faces. They had never seen such a residence before: the impressive high towers, the beautifully carved clock that stood proudly in the middle of the courtyard, and the remarkable water feature that had four blue-marble dolphins, each spouting water from its mouth.

’Where are the fairy dragons now, Niamh?’ Cait asked as she looked around, seeing no sign of the creatures.

’The fairy dragons guarded the fairy royal family for many years, but then for no apparent reason they suddenly vanished without any explanation. No one – not even Phil, who is the last of the fairy dragonsin Connachtknows what has happened to his race,’ the wizard answered sadly.

When they arrived in the area which had once housed the fairy dragons that were stationed at the castle, the leprechauns were allocated their rooms.

Derry and Cait were given the ones that the twins had shared on their last visit. Their chamber consisted of two individual bedrooms and a dining room with a magnificently handcrafted table that was already topped with delectable-looking food.

‘This is incredible,’ Cait exclaimed as she helped herself to a plump apricot and a wedge of creamy cheese, as she made her way to her bedroom.

‘Derry, come and look at this,’ cried Cait, moments later.

Derry arrived in Cait’s bedroom to find her holding a full-length, azure-blue gown that was almost the exact colour of her sparkling eyes. It had hundreds, maybe thousands, of sapphires magically attached to its arms and bodice.

‘It’s beautiful,’ Derry gasped. ‘Try it on.’

Cait slipped on her new garb, careful not to ruin any of the beading.

Derry looked at her friend, a tender smile on her face. ’Cait, you look beautiful, truly beautiful.’

The young leprechaun blushed deeply.

Dougal, Turloch and Fearghus’s accommodation was not quite as luxurious. The men stayed in barracks that had once housed up to six dragons, and although they had been refurbished to a high quality, they were still quite stark. However, like the girls, they had also been supplied with a large quantity of food, and only Fearghus was less than happy with the arrangements.

As Turloch scoured the room, his eyes rested upon a weathered wooden chest that had his name inscribed on it. He excitedly walked over to it and pried opened the heavy lid.

‘Look at this!’ he exclaimed. From the chest, he took out a long emerald-green cape. He eagerly wrapped it around himself, then looked at what else lay in the trunk. He found a matching vest and pants, both fitting him to perfection.

Fearghus hurried over to his friend, eager to see if he had the same good fortune. ‘I’ve got one too!’ he shrieked animatedly. ‘How did they know we were coming?’

‘I guess Phil must have flown ahead while we slept,’ Dougal replied, as he went to the trunk that had his name on it and pulled out the black cape, pants and vest he had worn two years ago. He looked down at the crest of the rampant golden lion on the cape and smiled.

When Dougal sawCait dressed in her new gown, he momentarily returned to the awkward, shy boy of two years before. Her beauty transfixed him; it was as if he was seeing her for the first time.

‘Dougal, breathe,’ jibed Derry, not trying to hide her amusement at her brother’s awkwardness.

Dougal looked at Derry, then back at Cait.

’You are breath taking, Cait,’ he murmured quietly.

Cait blushed to a deep crimson, and her heart beat rapidly as she walked over and slipped her arm through Dougal’s.

The five leprechauns headed towards the banquet hall, all feeling quite surreal.

When he was sure no one was watching, Turloch risked a sideways glance at Derry and sighed contently.

The banquet room did not disappoint. The crystal chandeliers that hung from the ceiling cast a soft mute light across the great expanse of the room, which was lavishly furnished with tapestries, paintings and swords. A hundred-foot table, which seated fifty, took pride of place in the centre of the room, and each place setting had a high-backed red-velvet chair. The table itself had gold-leaf etchings with striking carved lion-shaped legs at the middle and ends.

‘I’ve never seen such a room in my life,’ Cait whispered as she took her seat next to Dougal.

‘It is something, isn’t it?’ he replied happily.

They feasted on mouth-watering food from gold, crystal and fine china dinnerware. They ate legs of freshly cooked lamb, ham and beef, with fresh root vegetables. They were accompanied by the best of chutneys, honeys and other sides, and fine wines from the region washed all this down.

When the banquet was completed, the entertainment began. Dougal was presented with the most beautiful violin he had ever seen, and Derry was given a penny whistle made from solid gold. They took up their new instruments and joined the band, churning out tune after tune of fun, lively music. They all danced well into the small hours of the night.

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